He never thought these things happen in real life, worse still here in Malawi and that they would happen to him. “My wife risked her life and our marriage for an equivalent of K350, 000,” says the broken Chikopa (real name withheld), a resident of Blantyre. It all began like some joke. His wife told him that at her mother’s prayer group, they advertised for job opportunities in Kuwait.
“I discouraged her from going. It sounded questionable that they promise to provide free everything and pay lots of money. I had an instinct that there was a hidden agenda,” he says. Unfortunately, this pushed the wife to plan secretly. She had already made up her mind, despite the fact that she was several months pregnant.
One evening, she got a call from an unknown man who instructed her to pay K20, 000 for her medical and police reports. Chikopa noted the phone number. He called it days later. He was shocked to learn from this coordinator that his wife had already submitted her passport for the processing of travel arrangements.
“When I confronted my wife, she confessed that she was indeed processing to go to Kuwait under her mother’s influence. This was in honour of her membership to the prayer group. I told her to immediately withdraw her interest,” he recalls.
Chikopa assumed she had withdrawn as there was nothing suspicious going on. Details which Malawi News has gathered show that the leader of this prayer group who they call a prophetess takes advantage of the vulnerable women that patronise her prayer sessions. She encourages them to go to Kuwait ‘to work’.
Apart from conniving with agents in Kuwait, the prophetess tells the women to be paying tithe as a token of appreciation to God for helping them to secure the Kuwait job. The women spend the night before departure at her house.
On April 19 2016, Chikopa’s wife disappeared. In the morning of April 20 2016, he went to the church office and posed as an interested client.
“I’m sorry sir, at the moment we are not sending men. We are only sending women aged 18-35. Some women will be leaving for Kuwait today at 9 am through Chileka International Airport,” he was told.
“I found a woman and her two daughters there. I’m sure they were there for the same issues. This touched me so much. Many Malawians are being exploited and getting into deep problems because of poverty,” Chikopa says.
He later established that his wife was among the girls that left on April 20 2016. When Chikopa confronted the prophetess, she told him that she had no idea that her wife was among the people in the group.
“She claimed so. She sent us some money on our wedding day. She has been a friend to my mother in law. She assured me that she will try everything within her power to bring my wife back,” he says.
“‘Go back and pray, harder. I will be praying for
you too. I will keep in touch with your wife once they arrive in Kuwait,’ ” promised the prophetess.
The next day she told Chikopa that she had spoken with the wife but it was too late to bring her back as she had already been sold upon arrival in Kuwait. The agent had picked them up from the airport and stayed with them for several days. Different people went there to pick the women one by one. It appears these people were buying the girls from the agent.
Her passport, luggage and phone were confiscated. Later, she managed to borrow a phone from a well-wisher and communicated to her husband about the situation. She was given Islamic clothing. She was sold to a family of a retired Kuwait soldier. It was a big extended family. Chikopa’s wife woke up at 6 am and retired to bed at 12 mid night or beyond.
There was no resting and very little food for her to eat. She was confined indoors.
“Her stories broke my heart even more. She was always crying each time she called. But I couldn’t help, Kuwait is too far,” he said. This was not her final destination as there was a likelihood that she could be sold to another person should her employers be unsatisfied with her performance.
At this point, there was no communication from the prophetess and Chikopa resorted to reporting the matter to Blantyre police. “They told me point blank that they received many of such cases but they hadn’t arrested anyone. They said they had no authority to investigate such cases.
“This surprised me. The police is an arm of government that is supposed to protect all citizens and not side with criminals. “We have tried to follow up on this case after we learnt that the prophetess was arrested. Surprisingly, Blantyre police said the matter was at its headquarters,” he says.
Both the national police spokesperson and his deputy could not give the details of the case until three weeks later when deputy national police spokesperson Thomeck Nyaude said she had been released as there
Francis Kasaila, told our sister paper The Daily Times this week that Malawi government currently does not have money to bring the women home at the moment.
“This is an expense that we didn’t budget for. Therefore, we need to find ways of how we can find money to be able to support those that are being rescued from their employers in Kuwait,” Kasaila said.
He urged their families to buy them air tickets if they can afford.
But Chikopa says his wife told him that they all have been assured that government will bring them back.
“I have been checking the air fares and the amount ranges from K486,000 to K681, 000 one way from Kuwait to Malawi,” he says.
Projects Officer for Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) Micheal Kaiyatsa says this issue qualifies as ‘trafficking in persons’ because it is involving people being transported outside the country with the intention to be exploited by other people.
“All those involved including the suspected police officers should be prosecuted in accordance with the Trafficking in Persons Act,” he notes.
He also bashes government for shifting the responsibility of repatriating those who have been rescued to relatives. The Trafficking in Persons Act puts the obligation squarely on the government to ensure that trafficked persons receive proper care, protection and assistance, including repatriating them to their homes, Kaiyatsa says.
The Act requires the government to set up an anti-trafficking fund, which shall consist of money from the national budget, grants, donations and other sources.
The fund is supposed to be used to provide assistance to trafficked persons, including repatriating them.
It also requires the government to establish a national coordination committee chaired by ministry of home affairs, and comprising secretaries for gender, and justice, Inspector General of Police, commissioner for immigration, and director of human rights commission among others.
One of the responsibilities of the committee is to coordinate and oversee investigations on alleged perpetrators and receive reports from police officers on investigations and prosecution of officers.
“The issue of resources for repatriating survivors of human trafficking or alleged perpetrators not facing prosecution would not be a problem had government set up the fund and if the national coordinating committee was running as stipulated in the law.
“The challenge we have is that we are content with passing laws, but when it comes to implementation we always look for excuses. This needs to change,” Kaiyatsa observed.
According to the United States’ Department of State, Malawi is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.
“To a lesser extent, Malawi is also a destination country for men, women, and children from neighboring countries subjected to labor and sex trafficking and a transit point for people from some of these countries subjected to labor and sex trafficking in South Africa,” reads part of the information on the department’s website.
It says Kuwait is a destination country for men and women who are subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. It says the jobs include domestic service, construction and sanitation sectors.
“Though most migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival some sponsors and labour recruitment firms subject some migrants to forced labour, including through nonpayment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as confinement to the workplace and the withholding of passports,” it says.
It further notes that many of the migrant workers arriving in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries or are coerced into paying labour broker fees in Kuwait that, by Kuwaiti law, should be paid by the employer—a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage, once in Kuwait.
Globally an estimated 2.5 million people are trapped in modern day slavery, says the United Nations.
Source : Malawin